A bit of background for those who aren't aware: I moved from Indianapolis to Seattle at the end of October and went from a 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment. So I had to downsize everything considerably.
First off, I want to acknowledge how daunting purging is. Even if you know that you should do it, you will drag your heels before and while doing it. I know that had been the case for me, hence why I had such a big task to do when it was time to move.
AssessmentThe first thing to do is to assess what all needs to be looked at. Is it the whole house? Is it only these specific things? What needs to be done? This assessment will give you an idea for the task at hand. Make a list to ensure that you don't forget anything. And you'll likely find that you'll add things to that list as you remember them. And if you're a Type A personality like I am, you will love crossing out what is done. ;) Chances are also that you may be thinking that it's a lot that needs to be done and it might be less... or more... When you're just thinking vaguely about what needs to be done, you don't have a clear view of the scope of the endeavor.
Set a Date(s)Set a date for when you'll do it and actually do it. No excuse. You will come up with a ton of reasons as to why you should postpone doing it but it won't be easier any other day. So might as well just do it. Of course, I had the "advantage" that I needed to move by a certain date so that created a sense of urgency given that there was a strict deadline to meet. But, likewise, set a date by which you should have completed everything.
Also know that it will likely take more than one day to do everything. And that's fine. But don't set up the next purge date too far off into the future either because it will only make the process drag for longer. Also, chances are that you'll start getting into a groove and you would break that momentum by waiting too long to finish everything, making the process even more tedious.
Plan What to Tackle FirstYou don't actually need to have everything mapped out in succession but just knowing where you'll start will be good. Think ahead of time so that, when the purge day comes, you'll know where to start. You may actually agonize a bit over what to start with and, honestly, you'll need to do it all so starting *somewhere* is all that matters.
Start with the Easy Stuff
One thing that should help get you into the groove of purging is to start with easy and obvious stuff first. In my case, I had an accumulation of magazines that I had sworn I was going to read but hadn't. And there was quite a bit of mail that I had kept just 'cause I felt I needed to keep it for a bit but had never gotten around to throwing out. You may have a different pile of junk that needs to be addressed. Start there. It's easier to just throw those away, you will feel better because you are actually purging, and you will love the space that it creates. This should give you momentum to tackle harder areas that need purging.
Headspace is Key
You need to have a good headspace when you're purging things so do whatever needs to help with that: make a fresh pot of coffee or tea or put on some soothing music or light a scented candle or all of the above.
I would caution against drinking alcohol while purging as it has a depressant effect so it may make you go down a bad downward spiral, especially as you hit hard areas. And your judgment might be impaired, which more likely mean that you'd hold onto things that you should discard than over-purging. You can drink AFTER you're done for the day.
I would pretty much always do a first sorting and then a second sorting.The first sorting was a gut reaction, yes, no, or maybe to items. If the answer was yes, the item went in the keep pile. If it was a maybe, then I'd assess whether it was more maybe yes or maybe no and proceed from there; most of the time, I'd put the item in the keep pile as it meant that I wasn't ready to decide on it yet. If the answer was no, the item went into one of 3 piles: throw/garbage; sell; or donate/Goodwill. It's important to have a distinction between the piles or else you may forget which is which. If it helps, put a sign for each.
Once I was done with the first sorting, I'd look at the keep pile again to re-assess if there were any items that had transformed into a no. Generally, that's when the items that had elicited a "maybe" got a final answer.
How much do you want to keep?
In my case, the answer to that question was generally in terms of space, again, as I was downsizing in storage space considerably. But I quickly realized that, actually, for all that we knew how much space I had in general for all of our stuff, having a specific idea of how much space I wanted items that I was looking at were going to take helped me in purging. So quantifying what to keep helped tremendously. Here are some examples:
- I had a big collection of costume books but there really weren't that many that I was uber in love with. Before I looked at those, I had established that I was allowing myself to keep no more than 10 of those books. I think that I ended keeping like 6.
- I had a lot of belly dance stuff (duh) and allowed myself to keep however much was fitting into 2 bins.
Sometimes I had an idea ahead of time of how much I wanted to keep but, more often than not, I figured it out as I was going along.
Do not look back... don't second guess
Once you have sorted through things, the only pile that you can allow yourself to go through again is the keep pile. Anything that was considered discarded should still be considered as such. It will be super easy for you to make a case as to why you should go back and keep something. Refrain from doing that. It's really hard at first but it gets better as you get used to it.
As you get into your groove, though, you actually will find that you will go back through your keep pile (even maybe one from a previous sort) and get more ruthless in your purging.
Keepsakes are really really hard to tackle. You will want to hold on to them because, well, emotions are attached to them... and you have kept them thus far... you might want to see them again... they meant something to you. Well, chances are, those are in a box. And you know when you look at them again and remember the memory attached to them? Each time you sort through things but only at those times. So is it really worth these taking up space?
For these and other difficult decisions, I borrowed the principle from the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing where the author advises to thank items for the joy that they had brought in our lives but it's time to part ways now. It sounds super corny. But, believe me, it works. Note that I haven't read the book but got that idea from a review of the book that I had found at some point (I sadly can't find the link again). I know a few people who have read the book and thought that it was interesting.
The problem we are often faced when it comes to keepsakes and other items that we have difficulty parting with is that we want to keep them "just in case." They are a safety blanket of sorts and, to the author's point, reside in nostalgia... which is a negative emotion. You want things that make you happy. I know that I went through a bunch of cards and other mementos and I can't remember them all but I do remember the feelings that I went through while looking through them and that's likely a more powerful memory than what I'd get from looking at those again.
It's just StuffI think that one of the hardest things to realize when you're starting the process is that the items, even the mementos, are just stuff. They aren't the emotion or the memory but just an item. Telling myself sometimes "It's just stuff" really helped me with those harder decisions.
A Few Questions
There were 2 questions that helped me in my purging: 1) Would I pay money to move this item across the country? and 2) Can I buy it again?
Question #1 was very real in my case at the time that I did the majority of the purging. But I actually started the process slightly before I knew that I was going to move. So you can ask yourself that question too. And, heck, even if you're not moving across the country but just across town, it costs money to move things... and time to pack and unpack and, if it stays in boxes, it takes up space that you could otherwise be using. So it's a consideration to keep in mind. If it's not something that you'd pay money to move, consider discarding.
Question #2 gets to those pesky things where you're thinking "maybe I should keep." Or, yanno, for the dreaded fabric stash or costume stash or clothing, etc. Can you buy it again? That can be a tricky answer, I know, especially if we're talking about the fabric or costume stash. Let me tackle that separately next.
The Fabric and Costume Stashes
The fabric and costume stashes are definitely tricky areas. We kept those things for a reason, right? We meant to do something with those. And the idea(s) is(are) likely still floating in our head. How can we get rid of things? Be ruthless. Here are specific considerations for each stash:
The Fabric Stash
I should say fabric and notions stash but, if you have one of those, you knew that already. Examine each item and determine whether you should keep the fabric or notion and ask yourself the following:
- What was it originally bought for?
- Is that project still something you're interested in making?
- Does it still fit your style?
- If so, do you think you will work on it in the next year?
- If not, is it such a unique item that it's hard to find, should you need to buy it back? (e.g., assuit, unique fabric, unique trim, etc.)
I had in my stash some basics that I had kept because, well, they were good basics. But I could buy them back when I actually needed them. So I gave those away. There were also indeed some items that I had purchased ways back that I meant to do a certain costume with but it was no longer my style. So I gave those away too. I really only kept the very unique items like assuit (duh) and some fabric that I knew I could never find again but that was still my style. And pretty much all my notions and trims as those don't take that much space (and I didn't have a ton).
The Costume Stash
That one may be a little harder to reduce because the costume is something that could be worn. But here are things to ask yourself anyway:
- Have you worn it in the last year or two?
- Do you foresee yourself wearing it in the next year?
- Does it still fit your style?
- Does it still fit your body?
If you're not super enthusiastic about an item, don't keep it. If it doesn't make you feel glamorous, don't keep it. If it doesn't fit your body and can't be adjusted, don't keep it. If it doesn't fit your style anymore, don't keep it. If you don't think that you'll wear it any time soon, don't keep it.
The reason why a costume item is more heart wrenching even than the fabric stash is that you often paid quite a bit of money for it. So there's an amount of money that is associated with it in your mind and it's hard to part with it b/c it feels like you're wasting money. But it's actually using valuable storage space... and that's a resource too. (Wink at my economist partner.) And if you did spend some money on it, chances are you can resell the item for some of the value (though not all of it, of course). This is one such occasion where you can thank the item and let it go. And sell it. With that money, you can buy something brand new and fabulous that you WILL be excited about and WILL wear. And someone else will be excited about the item you sold. It's really a happy circle. And more on selling things in an upcoming entry.
Keep Working on Things
You will need to take breaks as you're working on things. But be careful not to dally too long as it will be really easy, once again, to make excuses for why you should stop. As such, try to have an idea of what you want to have done for the day and keep pushing until you are close to that goal.
All this purging will indeed be emotionally taxing. Some things will be harder than others. There might be tears. Be prepared for that. Be kind to yourself. It is all pretty normal. Items have a way of storing memories and bringing them back up. Even the good memories do take a toll let alone the bad ones. While you want to be mindful that you may use the emotional toll as a reason to stop working early when, really, you could have pushed, you should also be aware that you may reach an emotional capacity. You just may not be able to push more and that's okay.
Areas in the House
As you're going through the process, you may want to establish different areas in the house for your sell and donate piles. It really helps in sorting things and then you don't have to go through which one is which. For example, we had 3 rooms upstairs that had different designations: room 1 had items we were selling, room 2, had items we were donating, and room 3 had items had garbage bags.
So here is really how I did things. I would either work on a specific room at a time or a specific category at a time. It really depended on what was easier but, for the most part, I went by category. The category sort helps in figuring out how much of one category you have and are keeping. We had to divide the books in different subcategories, though, because we had so many. Oh and sorting by category also helps if you are moving as you can box things that way.
- First sort: gut reaction as to whether to keep or throw, donate, sell.
- Second sort: go through the keep pile and see whether other items should moved in the throw, donate, or sell piles. Carefully look at the "maybe" items and decide yes or no.
- Put the throw pile in garbage bags. If possible, put them out in the trash. Once the trash is full, put in the trash area in the house.
- Move the donation pile to the donation area in the house.
- Take pictures of items for sale and move to the sale area of the house.
- Put the keep items either where they will ultimately belong or in a keep pile.
- Repeat process with next category.
But It's MORE Messy Now!
Chances are, your house will get messier than it was. It happens. You have to view it as an in-between stage and trust that it will be better eventually. At least you have sorted through things and know what is what. Once you've gone through all the things, discarded all the items, and put everything back in its place (or in boxes if you're moving), it will be tidier. It takes time. And, hopefully, the messy state of the house will help keep you motivated to do all the sorting that needs to be done in a timely fashion.
Get Things Out Quickly
To prevent the temptation of looking back into the discard piles and to help with the house not looking too messy, That's why I would bag things to throw right away after I was done with a category: there is something about things being in a garbage bag that make you not want to look at them again. ;) Here are a few specific tips:
It's very likely that your weekly garbage retrieval won't cover all of the garbage that will be created in a purge. You may end up having to put it out over a number of weeks. Here are other options:
- Take garbage to a dump site. There will be a fee associated with how much you are bringing to the dump site and that will be by volume of the vehicle you are bringing items in. It is probably the cheapest option if you don't have too much stuff but it might be time consuming as you need to load your vehicle, unload it.
- Get get a company to come and pick your items for you and dispose of them for you. There is of course a fee associated with this. Around spring time, you generally may be able to get a groupon or other deal from one of those. They charge by the load and generally expect things to be in like a garage or somewhere easy to retrieve like that. It's a little pricier than doing it yourself but then you don't have to do it yourself.
- Get a dumpster rental. This is probably the most economic option if you have a lot to throw away but you also have to load things in the dumpster yourself (unless you were to hire workers for that). I rented one last July to throw away a lot of stuff and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were cheaper than I expected. One note is that we ended up having people go through our things early in the morning so we made sure to load it up as fast as we could and get it out of our yard as fast as we could. Our worry was mainly around injuries that might happen on our property.
Most likely you will donate things to a place like Goodwill or Salvation Army. You can bring things to them, of course. That may require a number of trips. Depending on what you have and how much and which location you're using, they may actually come and pick things up for you.
While I will cover the sale of items separately, I will say here that you also want to get those out of the door quickly so, if it doesn't sell, at one point, you may want to consider donating the item or selling it for cheaper.
Once you're done with all the purging and more space is created, you'll love it! It's a hard task but it feels so good once it's done!